Jul 312013

Hey everyone, Bill Stiernberg here!

So sometimes map making comes up as a topic of discussion.  The maps in Rainslick4 were definitely my most complex and detailed yet.

While I didn’t record footage of myself making a map, I can show you the layers that went into one of them.  This will demonstrate to a small degree how these maps are built.


  • This is a compressed animated .gif – so it’s not at the full quality of the map in-game
  • The chests in this image were replaced by newer, better chest sprites in-game
  • This gif does not show the final animated map frames — like the flashing lights, flickering monitors, etc.
  • This gif does not show the process I underwent in building the various objects and tiles in the map itself, or how I placed them part by part.
  • It just shows each layer consecutively placed over the one beneath, which reveals a lot about how the map itself is constructed outside of all the art I had to make to begin with.
  • There’s a little artifact in the top right which is not visible in-game.


Enjoy! (Note also: the map is a looping GIF animation, so wait for it to restart if you want to see the whole thing)


Rain-slick 4 Map Layers Example (Click for larger view)

Rain-slick 4 Map Layers Example (Click for larger view)


This wasn’t the most complex map in the game, but I didn’t want to spoil some cool ones by posting them here 🙂

The overall process takes quite some time.  This image doesn’t reveal how long it takes to fully conceptualize a game location, and look.  It doesn’t show the time or effort it takes to draw the individual tiles and pieces of art, and make them look and work well together within a chosen color scheme.  It doesn’t show the steps to animate the map either, which is a big part of the presentation.

What you might get out of it is how many little details I put in.  Some of the layers you’ll see exist solely to ground objects with detail and ambient shadows.  This is a separate shadow layer from the one that falls onto player sprites, which is one of the final layers in the map and produces a more dramatic lighting effect to the game.  The shadows and shadow layers in Rainslick4’s maps were all custom drawn for each map in the game individually rather than using some kind of lighting engine or relying on older methods of lighting (like, shadows always fall to the right of walls).

Rather, with RS4, I wanted lighting to reflect the actual light sources in the maps more accurately.  I think it produces a more natural feel to the levels and is often pretty dramatic.  This particular map has a lot of glow effects and so that makes it a bit surreal as well.

Feel free to ask questions and I’ll answer them in the comments if you like!

-Bill Stiernberg (bill_at_zeboyd on twitter.  Deviantart page.)


Links to previous Art Columns:

  3 Responses to “Zeboyd Weekly Art! (7/31/13): The layers of a Rain-slick 4 Map”

  1. thanks for your thoughtful response, Bill. I’m looking forward to seeing what you crank out for Cosmic Star Heroine. I’ll be a day one backer when your Kickstarter is up.

  2. Hey Matthew,
    Yes, indeed with Rainslick3 and 4, the maps are constructed as a composite of 3 main images, and technically a fourth for obstruction. The layers are a base, a shadow, and a foreground. I still build them using tiles that I make and lock most of them onto 16×16 grids, but by working on the maps as one large image, it gives me a lot of flexibility in creating variation details and adding quirky things, and doing so quickly. If I want to, say, add a crack to a wall, I just draw it right in. It also allows me flexibility with edge-tiles, in reducing the sort of hard angles that come with traditional tiling. I can vary and smooth those out some, making some maps look more natural, but still feel 16-bit.

    Most maps end up in resolutions of 1024×1024, with smaller maps usually being 512×512 and the big ones being either 2048×1024 or the world map which iirc waws 2048×2048. So typical powers of 8 sizes mostly being 1024×1024 like the one above.

    We do consider loading times with this stuff – not because of the detail of the art, but because of the fact that maps are 1 big image and there are other sprites sheets and certain things being held in memory as well. That said, we tested the heck out of this and our games are still modest enough memory-wise that even with a 1024×1024 map replicated 8 times (8 frames of anim) with 2 additional layers (shadow, foreground), and a collision mask, the Xbox 360 still handles it fluidly and there are not noticeable load times whatsoever on PC versions. So we’re still OK with this method 🙂

    I might do more posts about the other aspects like tiles and sprites down the line when there’s time.


  3. I like that you created an animated gif to show the progression of developing this map. The first time I saw Breath of Death VII in the early days of XBLIG, I knew I was going to buy and enjoy the game. Your work has gotten even more interesting since! For me, both the Penny RPGs were a delight to play through for the game mechanics, writing, and sprite work.

    I guess it shows how little I’ve thought about the process that goes into making environmental art for your games. This leads me to believe you create this whole level in one, large image? Can you give us an idea of the final resolution for a level of this size? Do you have to consider load times when creating the art for a level, or is that a moot point?

    I’d love to read some more about the details you hint at in this post: Creating individual sprites, how you handle concept art, etc.

    Thanks so much for this write up!

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